Title: Tinder
Rated: R
Pairing: SasuNaruSasu (also NarutoxHinata, SasukexOC, and LeexSakura)
Warnings: Adultery
Notes: For silverwyrm.

***I started this fic back in 2007 and never got around to finishing it until now. As such, it is only canon compliant up to ch 364, and deviates immediately after the Sasuke and Deidara fight. I didn't address Itachi at all, because at the time, we didn't yet know much about his motives or Konoha's part in the Uchiha massacre. This story is told completely from Sakura's point of view. As a result, Sakura's day-to-day life will be present, but since this is a SasukexNaruto fic, the majority of it will be in passing and/or glossed over.

Summary: Naruto and Sasuke aren't very good at settling down. Sakura narrates.

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Chapter 1

It was fall in Konoha, the sweltering heat of the summer months having passed without incident, and all was well.

At the Academy, Sakura presided over her classroom, her students sitting with their heads bowed over the final exam of the second trimester.

In the second row up, a boy sat hunched over his test, dark hair falling across his brow in a way that was sweetly reminiscent of his father. Sakura smiled as her gaze settled on him, her fingers tapping a random tune against the stack of papers she'd been grading.

Saizo had entered the Academy the year before and had risen to the top of his class. He was already receiving lessons far more advanced than others within his age group. In fact, Sakura estimated the boy would be ready for graduation within another year. Sasuke had been so proud that he had actually cracked a grin—until Naruto ruined it by remarking on how Saizo's intelligence couldn't have been inherited from his father seeing as Sasuke hadn't graduated until age twelve.

It was clear, however, that Saizo was an Uchiha in every sense of the word.

Watching him, she could see the moment he finished his exam. A small smirk twisted his lips and his dark eyes scanned over his sheet, double checking his work. She felt a pang of something not quite nostalgia as Saizo sat back in his seat and crossed his arms.

There was very little of his mother in his features save for the full curve of his lips. Barring that, Sakura might have thought she was looking at a young Sasuke, the similarities apparent from the set of his shoulders to the spiked back of his head.

The entire village had done a double take when Sasuke returned a year after the war with a pregnant wife in tow. Sakura had only just turned eighteen and, despite the passage of time, had still been a little in love with her former teammate. But Sasuke had returned to Konoha for only one reason—to rebuild his clan, and neither she nor Naruto had been factored in at the time.

To everyone's surprise, the Hokage herself had vouched for Sasuke's re-admittance. The council took into account Sasuke's role in removing Orochimaru as a threat, along with several Akatsuki members—all of which had been advantageous to Konoha in the war that ensued even though Sasuke's actions at the time had been purely self-motivated. The fact that Sasuke had a pregnant wife to bolster his claim of rebuilding his clan had helped.

In the end, the prospect of restoring one of Konoha's most powerful clans had overridden the council's doubts. Sasuke had been granted a pardon with two year's worth of strict probation—the ninja equivalent to a slap on the wrist. It had been anti-climactic; Sakura and Naruto couldn't have been more pleased.

Still, she'd been suspicious, envious even, of the woman Sasuke called wife. But Naruto had warmed up to her immediately, claiming that any woman who could put up with Sasuke was well worth the effort of befriending. Even though Sasuke had resisted at first, the three of them had gradually grown back into a team and Sakura had conceded that having her second family together and whole again was worth much more than petty jealousy.

Saizo was now fidgeting in his seat, no doubt growing annoyed that he had to wait for the end of the period to leave even though he'd completed his exam well before his classmates. In that respect, he was also very much like Sasuke—so eager to grow up and develop his potential. Naruto, to Sasuke's chagrin, had become his children's favored uncle. Whenever Naruto was present, Saizo transformed into the hyper eight-year-old that he was, rather than a stoic little ninja in the making.

She glanced out the window at the trees standing just beyond the walls of her classroom. Sasuke and Naruto were out there, on a mission somewhere in River Country. Sakura had requested she be allowed to join them, but the mission was low risk and a medic had been deemed unnecessary.

A small clock sitting at the corner of her desk chimed. Sakura cleared her throat.

"All right, everyone, time's up. Please leave your exams on my desk before you leave."

The students who had failed to finish groaned, and Sakura smiled indulgently. Babysitting Sasuke's children had cultivated much more patience within her than she had ever had as a teenager.

Saizo dropped his exam in the growing pile on her desk and paused. "Sakura-sensei, will you be over for dinner tonight?"

Sakura could only assume that Saizo had Sasuke's smile because it wasn't his mother's. His smiles warmed her in the same way that Naruto's did. They told her that, despite the past, things would be okay. Sasuke had proven to be a very good father.

"I'm sorry, Saizo-san. I'm going to be helping Hinata with dinner tonight." Sakura reached out and patted his head. Saizo grinned, at ease with the affection.

"Tomorrow then, okay?"

Sakura glanced toward the door where a woman had entered, two small children trailing behind her. "I'll try," she said. She gestured at the new arrivals. "Your mom is here."

Saizo turned, small fists shoved into his pockets. "Mom, do I have to go shopping? I need to train."

"Now now, Saizo, we agreed this morning that you'd help me with the groceries. Be a good brother and take your siblings outside so I can say hello to Sakura." Sasuke's wife nudged her son towards her other children.

A little girl with long black hair latched herself to Saizo's arm, beaming up at her brother with a huge, gap-toothed grin. "Saaaiiizo, tell me what you learned today."

Mikoto was six, two years younger than Saizo, and demanded daily to hear about what Saizo had learned. Sakura thought it endearing how eager she was to join her brother at the Academy. Judging by Saizo's expression, he felt differently. With a low grumble, he reached down to take his other sibling's hand. Juzou, who was five, was the youngest of Sasuke's children. He crossed his arms and affected a pout not unlike his older brother's. A stern look from his mother, however, and he quickly took Saizo's hand.

"Have a good evening, Saizo-san," Sakura said. Beside her, Sasuke's wife shifted on her feet. Sakura stood from behind her desk, embarrassed by her temporary lapse in manners. "Kosuke, how have you been?"

Kosuke brushed aside her bangs and shrugged once. "Fine, thank you. Sasuke began teaching Juzou how to handle shuriken before he left." She paused to laugh, tiny crows feet wrinkling the corners of her eyes.

Kosuke had been barely older than Sakura when she'd first arrived with Sasuke. She'd had pretty blue eyes that bore the weight of her travels, and her smiles had been weary and guarded. But that had changed, and she had welcomed Sakura's friendship. Kosuke was still young, but the years had left their mark in the premature wrinkles. Sakura studied her face, wondering if those lines had been put there by laughter shared with Sasuke. Somehow, she doubted it.

"He makes Mikoto practice with him in the evenings after dinner since Saizo is so stubborn. Saizo won't practice with anyone but his father or Naruto. Or you, of course."

Sakura turned to gather up her papers and the new stack of freshly completed exams. "Saizo-kun is a wonderful boy and he'll make a formidable ninja some day. I'll try to stop by sometime this week to show him some medical jutsu." It was her private hope that Saizo would become a medic. The boy was a prodigy and already far superior to his peers in chakra control. He had shown interest in her medical jutsu, but that had flagged after Sasuke introduced his son to the tradition of Uchiha fire jutsu.

"Thank you, Sakura. Join us for dinner tomorrow, won't you?"

"I'll try."

Sakura bowed and watched Kosuke herd away her small family of dark-eyed, black-haired children.

oOo

Sakura stopped at home just long enough to drop off her papers and change out of her jounin uniform. Her apartment was located near the hospital, which made it convenient for her to rush over in the case of emergencies—which was common in their line of work.

Her home wasn't the traditional sprawl of pillars and panels like Sasuke's, nor was it an amalgamation of traditional and modern architecture like Naruto's. Her apartment was small and neat, decorated sparsely with a few potted plants, a large vase or painting, and several framed pictures of Team Seven as they progressed through the years. Having a functional living space to eat and sleep was really all she needed out of her home and she rarely let herself believe otherwise.

Naruto and Hinata lived in a quaint little house near the border of the village. Sakura suspected Naruto had selected it to be as far away from the Hyuuga district as possible.

The Hyuuga traditions were something Naruto had little tolerance for and, in one of his spontaneous fits of emotion, he had loudly informed Hinata's father how he felt. Needless to say, it had not endeared him to Hyuuga Hiashi. It had taken Naruto two years of courtship before Hiashi would even acknowledge him as a suitor for the future head of Hyuuga.

Sakura climbed the stairs to the front door of Naruto and Hinata's home. Before her knuckles even brushed the dark wood, Hinata's voice rang out from within the house.

"Come in! The door's open."

Inside, Hinata was standing at the counter slicing what looked like ginger root into thin round disks. Sakura toed off her sandals and set them along the wall.

"How was your day?" Hinata asked.

Sakura replied accordingly and set about helping her prepare dinner. She moved through the kitchen, well familiar with where things were kept. The house was small, considering Naruto had insisted on buying the home with his own savings. But what it lacked in space, it made up for in character.

Hinata had dug an herb garden in the back, and Naruto, with Sasuke's help, had built a small gazebo beside it where the couple could lounge on warm days. Both Naruto's and Hinata's teams had made it a group project to paint the interior of the house. The memory of that day remained one of Sakura's most cherished. Sasuke had brought Saizo along, but the child's presence hadn't deterred Naruto and Kiba from painting a lewd mural on the living room wall.

Sakura smiled fondly at the memory. As she sliced a slab of beef into thin strips, her gaze wandered to a photo of Naruto and Sasuke hanging above the dinner table. It had been taken a year after Sasuke's return. Sasuke looked stiff, glaring reproachfully at the camera, while Naruto had a grin twice the size of his face, his arm slung around Sasuke's shoulder. Framing it on either side were photos of Team Seven and Team Eight in their early twenties.

"It's awfully quiet here when Naruto isn't around," Sakura said. She transferred the pile of sliced meat onto a clean plate and set the cutting board in the sink.

Hinata stood at the stove, heating an oiled pan. "It's not so bad; Kiba and Shino visit me a lot. But I guess it does feel odd sometimes when it's just me."

Sakura arched an eyebrow and grinned. "Does that mean I should brace myself for miniature Narutos in the near future?"

Hinata paused in stirring the vegetables. She tilted her head at Sakura for a moment, expression puzzled, before comprehension dawned. Then she ducked her head, cheeks flushed. "Er...n-no. Naruto and I decided we're not ready to set aside our ninja duties to raise a child yet. It's a big responsibility."

Sakura did her best to hide her disappointment. Naruto had been speechless the first time he'd held Saizo. There had been wonder in his face when he'd looked up at Sasuke, as if awe-struck that his perpetually temperamental teammate had really had a hand in creating such a tiny, perfect person.

"Yes, I suppose you're right."

"I'm leaving in the morning for a mission, but I hope to be back in a few days. If Naruto returns while I'm gone, you wouldn't mind making sure he doesn't eat just ramen, would you?"

Sakura laughed and readily agreed, although she had yet to succeed in tearing Naruto away from Ichiraku when Hinata wasn't available to cook.

As it was only the two of them, they moved into the living room to eat. They sat at either end of the sofa, warm bowls cradled in their laps. Hinata chattered on about recent events within her team and Sakura was content to listen. The woman had a soft voice, pleasant and soothing, a perfect complement to Naruto's braying tones.

Above the mantle was a large portrait of Hinata and Naruto taken only the year before on their wedding day. Hinata stood perhaps a bit closer to Naruto than was deemed appropriate, but the smile on her bright red lips made it clear that she had been unconcerned with etiquette. Sakura remembered how Naruto's breath had caught when he'd seen her in her kimono—white silk brocade woven through with silver thread. Naruto looked equally stunning in his dark blue hakama. Sasuke, in an unexpected show of thoughtfulness, had gifted Naruto with the formal attire, knowing Naruto wouldn't have the means of acquiring it himself.

In the most recent photo of the pair, Sasuke's arms were crossed and he was smirking, his gaze directed towards Naruto's happy grin. Naruto had always had a way of getting under one's skin, and Sasuke was no exception. She thought perhaps she understood how Sasuke must feel with Naruto—like they weren't grown men with families and obligations outside of their ninja duties, like they were still genin trying to outdo each other, like perhaps time hadn't changed them quite as much as he thought.

"Do you think you'll be wanting your own team soon?" Hinata asked, after a lengthy account of her genin team's latest exploits in Suna.

Sakura turned away from the grinning faces behind the thin glass. Hinata was holding her empty bowl in her lap, her chopsticks sitting across the rim. "I already have a whole class of kids, and I love working at the hospital. I'll probably wait a couple more years before submitting myself to take on a team."

Sakura wasn't sure she'd ever want a team, considering the trials she'd gone through with Team Seven. Every Konoha jounin was required to train at least one team during their career, but Sakura planned to hold off on that obligation for as long as possible.

"And Lee? How's his team?"

"They're away on a mission. C class, minor reconnaissance. They should be back soon." Lee loved his team and pushed them hard to be the best. Despite his exuberance and the impossible regimen he set for them, his kids seemed attached to him. Sakura had met them a few times when Lee had brought them around, and the boys had been quietly impressed that he not only had a girlfriend, but that she was the Hokage's apprentice.

After cleaning up, Sakura left for the night with a promise to visit again when Hinata returned from her mission.

The night was warm with the dry taste of ash in the air. Her feet carried her back home, and once again, she felt that tiny twist in her gut.

She could say in all honesty that she was happy with her present circumstances. She was renowned as the Hokage's apprentice, and she enjoyed the work she did both at the hospital and at the Academy—they validated her in ways that she hadn't known she'd needed. Therefore, she refused to acknowledge the tiny lump of doubt sitting at the pit of her stomach.

It was silly to feel inadequate just because she was going home to an empty apartment. So what if both her teammates—the most socially inept people she knew—had settled down before her? Sasuke and Naruto had always been the ones charging forward while she hung back and evaluated the situation. It was stupid to feel even remotely bitter that, even in this, Naruto and Sasuke had left her behind.

She straightened and scolded herself for her thoughts. Naruto and Sasuke deserved every bit of happiness they had, and she would never wish otherwise. Besides, she had a boyfriend who was not only fiercely loyal, but doted on her as if she were the only woman in the world—and really, what more could a kunoichi ask for in a man (aside from slightly thinner eyebrows, which could be easily rectified with handy tweezers if the impulse ever struck her)?

With a smile firmly in place, Sakura continued home and prepared herself for a night of grading exams.

oOo

Being the Hokage's apprentice and a medic, Sakura was never technically 'off duty'. But Sundays were generally slow and her shift was only a few hours in the afternoon. She used the free time to do her grocery shopping and visit the Yamanaka flower shop where Ino could be found when she wasn't away on a mission.

She was headed in that direction, her grocery bags a slight weight in her right hand, when she spotted a familiar head of blond hair between the flaps of the ramen stand. Remembering the promise she'd made Hinata, she switched the bags to her left hand and crossed the road.

"Naruto," she said. He glanced over his shoulder as she entered and took the empty stool beside him. "I heard you and Sasuke got back yesterday. Why didn't you come say hello?"

Naruto grinned. She frowned at the tightness around his mouth. "I was pretty tired—didn't feel like leaving the house." In his left hand he held a crumpled napkin, his fingers clenching and unclenching around it.

"How did it go? The mission, I mean." She set her bags on the ground beside her feet. Naruto's smile sagged at the corners and he stared down into the murky broth in his bowl, expression shuttered.

"It was fine. Just some stolen goods and a missing nin. Nothing we couldn't handle." He heaped a mound of noodles into his mouth and hadn't even swallowed before shoving in another mouthful. It wasn't any different than his usual abysmal table manners, but she was given the impression that he was deliberately avoiding having to talk.

"I promised Hinata I'd make sure you didn't eat just ramen while she's gone."

He choked a bit before pounding a fist against his chest and coughing lightly. "Hinata—she's great like that."

She nodded in agreement. She smiled when he glanced at her but his gaze darted away just as quickly. He jabbed at the contents of his bowl with his chopsticks and worried his bottom lip between his teeth.

She sighed. "Okay, spill it. What happened?"

He started so violently that for a moment she was sure he'd fall right off his stool. But then he composed himself and made a rather unconvincing attempt at appearing nonchalant.

"W-what are you talking about?" He lifted his bowl to drink the broth, but Sakura slapped a hand over his wrist, pinning both the bowl and his hand to the counter.

"Don't play dumb with me, Naruto. You're an awful liar. Did you and Sasuke have another fight?"

Some indecipherable emotion tightened his features, but it was so brief she couldn't be sure what she'd seen. Her hand released his and she waited a moment but his face remained still.

He turned to her, eyes laden with something she couldn't make out, and said, "We didn't have a fight."

She might have believed him if not for the way his shoulders bunched up. He abruptly dropped the napkin crumpled in his fist, as if having forgotten it was there. Then he shoved his hand beneath his thigh and started on his second bowl with renewed vigor.

Something was obviously bothering him, and if it wasn't a fight with Sasuke, then she wasn't sure what else it could be. But his demeanor suggested that he very much did not want to talk about it, and she supposed she could respect that—for now.

"So are we still on for dinner tonight?" She forced a smile and affected a casual air for Naruto's sake. She felt her effort fizzle as his jaw tightened and his gaze slid away from his bowl to some indistinguishable spot to his right.

"I'm still pretty tired. I'd rather just stay home."

The lie was rather thin, considering Naruto's energy could probably light up all of Konoha for a month. He never begged off on their weekly Sunday dinners unless he and Sasuke had pissed each other off. She didn't even know what the two fought about anymore—Sasuke had grown marginally (a very miniscule margin, but still an improvement) mellower in fatherhood, and Naruto had matured with age. Yet, on occasion, they continued to turn up covered in dirt and bruises, as if they were still incapable of settling a dispute without having to digress to schoolyard tussles.

Normally, all they needed was a few days to cool off and then they could be spotted training together again, whatever quarrel between them forgotten.

She would have left it alone but imagining Naruto in his house, eating instant ramen by himself at his small table was a dismal image indeed. "Well then how about we have dinner at your place? I'll cook."

He set his chopsticks down and wiped his mouth with a spare napkin. "Sorry, Sakura-chan. I'm not... I'd rather be by myself tonight. Have fun with Sasuke."

He dropped some money on the counter and disappeared before she could even open her mouth to argue. She huffed at his departure before scooping up her grocery bags. Instead of continuing on to the flower shop, she headed back home, no longer in the mood for a social call.

oOo

There was a bouquet of flowers sitting on Sakura's desk when she arrived at the hospital for her shift. Attached to the vase was a bright green card with the words 'To My Beautiful Flower Sakura! Yours, Lee' written in bold red marker. Familiar warmth settled in her chest, and she sniffed the arrangement happily.

She'd returned home earlier to find a note slipped beneath her door. Lee and his genin team had returned from their mission, one of many consecutive missions they'd been on for the last several months. The flow of assignments had finally ebbed, and her apartment had probably been his first stop upon returning. She felt guilty for not being available, but his note had requested dinner for Monday night, and they'd established enough of an understanding that Sakura hadn't needed to send a response.

She looked forward to seeing him. For all the time she spent shuffling between her two jobs, Lee was never far from her thoughts. He made her happy with nothing more than his presence, which was always a relief after long hours at the hospital or days like this one, when the two other men in her life chose to be exasperating idiots.

She set the vase by the window before collecting her clipboard and skimming her schedule for the next few hours.

Shizune was on call for emergencies, but she doubted they would see much activity for the afternoon. As one of four Junior Head Medics, she shared an office with the other three but rarely saw them. Their shifts were all arranged around one another to ensure at least one of them was present at the hospital at all times.

She passed the lobby and glanced up when her peripheral vision caught a flash of black. Kosuke was standing at the front desk speaking to the nurse. Mikoto and Juzou stood at her side. Mikoto was glaring a hole into the linoleum, her lips forming a stubborn pout that was not unlike Sasuke's back in his Academy days. Juzou was holding his arm to his chest, his dark eyes wide and watery, bottom lip trembling.

Sakura crossed the short distance to them and dropped to a crouch in front of Juzou. "Can I see your arm?" she asked, tempering her voice to sound as soothing and undemanding as possible.

Juzou wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand before sticking out his other arm for her to inspect. Sakura squeezed his hand before pushing back the sleeve of his shirt. There was a thin pad of gauze taped to his arm and she peeled it back, careful not to aggravate the skin beneath. Beneath the gauze was a thin cut, about two inches long, across the length of his forearm.

"Sakura! I didn't see you there."

Sakura looked up to see Kosuke smiling down at her. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to interrupt you. What happened?"

Kosuke smiled indulgently at her son and ran her fingers through his dark hair. "Mikoto and Juzou were practicing shuriken. Mikoto missed the tree and clipped her brother."

Mikoto's face screwed up. "I said I was sorry!"

Kosuke pulled her daughter into a hug. "It's okay, Mikoto. Juzou knows you didn't mean it."

"That looks like it hurts," Sakura said, making an exaggerated face that wrung a reluctant smile from Juzou. "Let's see if we can take care of it."

She placed a hand over the thin cut and gathered her chakra. The skin of her palm tingled pleasantly, her chakra seeking out the broken skin and knitting it back together.

"Sasuke didn't think a hospital visit was necessary, but Juzou kept making such a fuss," Kosuke said. She kissed the top of Mikoto's head before bending over to observe Sakura's work.

"There! All better." Sakura sat back and grinned at the way Juzou rubbed his hand over the spot where the cut had been.

His lips curved into a smile, and he cast her a shy glance before whispering, "Thank you."

Sakura pushed to her feet and ruffled his hair. Unlike Sasuke's and Saizo's, his hair cooperated with gravity and lay flat against his head. "You're very welcome."

"Thank you, Sakura. Juzou can be rather dramatic sometimes," Kosuke said.

He gets it from his father, Sakura thought with a mental snort. "He'll be tough like his brother in no time," she said. "Speaking of which, how is Saizo-kun doing?"

"Sasuke took Saizo down to the lake to teach him another fire jutsu. He's learning so quickly."

Sakura swelled with pride. She knew she shouldn't favor her students, but Saizo was Sasuke's son and like a nephew to her. "Saizo-kun is going to outgrow the Academy very soon."

"I'm going next year!"

Mikoto was bouncing on her heels, her previous distress at hurting her brother forgotten.

Sakura hugged her clipboard to her chest and leaned over to meet Mikoto's eye level. "I bet you'll be just as amazing as your brother."

Mikoto nodded so enthusiastically that her ponytail sagged and her bangs fell across her eyes.

"Oh!" Kosuke said, as if just recalling something. "Sasuke wanted me to tell you that he can't make the dinner tonight."

Sakura straightened, her fingers tightening over the hard edge of her clipboard. Sasuke also reneging on their dinner plans was as solid a confirmation as she was likely to get about the two men bickering. "I see. Did he say why?"

Kosuke shook her head. "No... He's been more withdrawn than usual since he returned. But he gets like that sometimes. I try not to worry."

Sakura nodded, mentally commending the woman for tolerating Sasuke's moods for eight years. "He and Naruto probably got into a fight during their mission. I'm sure it'll blow over in a day or two."

"I hope so." Kosuke reached down to take Mikoto and Juzou in each hand.

"I was wondering," Sakura said, before Kosuke could turn away. "Would it be all right if I dropped by in a couple hours to teach Saizo-kun a new medical jutsu?"

"Oh, of course. Saizo loves your visits. I'm sure Sasuke would enjoy your company as well."

Sakura wasn't so sure, but she smiled anyway as Kosuke led her children away. Sasuke appreciated the time she spent with his children—she knew this because he had confessed it to her one year on her birthday after Naruto had jabbed him in the ribs and muttered not so discreetly 'tell her, you asshole.' But he always seemed to know beforehand when she was fishing for answers and subsequently made himself scarce to avoid having to dodge her questions. If he or Naruto would just talk to her then she wouldn't have to always worry about them in the first place.

After Sasuke had been reinstated as a Konoha ninja, she had felt awkward in his presence, not yet adjusted to having him back again and present on missions. But after a few missions, they had relearned how to function as a team and, a dozen or so missions later, had settled into the kind of camaraderie they hadn't shared since before he'd left Konoha.

There was a comfort and trust between the three of them now that had taken years and far too much pain to cultivate. Secure in this knowledge, she was confident that whatever squabble the men were having would pass soon enough.

The broken look in Naruto's eyes haunted her throughout the rest of her shift.

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A/N: A huge thank you to those who helped critique this last year when I requested help with it. It was greatly appreciated and I can't thank you enough. You're all so amazing and giving